I planned to get up at 6am and go for a run, despite the forecast noting a windchill of -16C. What happened is that, because I’d played my first indoor soccer match of the year the previous night (I headed-in the game equalizer) my better sense woke me up and I switched off the alarm on my smartphone at 4am to get some rest and heal my muscles.
Ingrid’s radio alarm went-off at 7:26am. It was the usual: CBC Radio One’s Metro Morning broadcast. But something seemed off. For one thing they were talking a lot about David Bowie. But, I thought, he just had an album out on Friday so it didn’t surprise me. And then it dawned on us that his name was being used in the past tense. I distinctly remember them playing Sound and Vision, a song I would never imagine Metro Morning otherwise playing.
I didn’t want a Canadian or journalistic perspective. I didn’t want to hear about how “strange” Bowie was. I didn’t want to hear the inevitable and inevitably earnest interview with astronaut Chris Hadfield. We spent the rest of the morning listening to BBC Radio Six which had put together a very thoughtful program, including reminiscences from musicians and Bowie collaborators. We went about our morning routine – namely, drinking coffee and reading the Globe and Mail – but it seemed like we weren’t paying attention to anything but the radio. I eschewed social media. I did not want other people’s words in my head, I didn’t want to find myself summarizing my feelings about Bowie’s passing in the sort of facile way that social media can render even the most heartfelt words. I didn’t even want to write that I was avoiding social media. I wanted none of it.
We had some breakfast and I finished some email correspondence for my practice. And then I went for a run. I needed to, even though this was probably the first time I’ve ever stepped out in plain daylight to do so (note: seeing your shadow is weird when you’re running). It was neither my fastest nor most laboured 10k. My head wasn’t really focused on anything, expect for maybe some of the songs BBC Six had been playing: songs plainly inspired by Bowie (Down Here by John Grant), songs which had plainly inspired Bowie (1-2-3 by Len Barry).
Lou Reed was the musician/performer who most likely kept me from killing myself when I was a teenager. His voice came through the speaker and consoled me in its plain cadence, and hinted to me of an alternative universe that I could only dream of seeing back then, living in the suburbs as I did; darker, sure, but more real. I don’t know if David Bowie saved my life but he made it infinitely more interesting and colourful, pulling influences out of his sleeve like a Harlequin-magician and transforming them into a succession of mesmerizing and artistically inspiring songs intended for a wide audience. He largely succeeded because he stayed ahead of trends. Both of them are gone, and while I may have felt more gutted about Reed’s passing, Bowie – whose songs, cool and fragile, rollicking and romantic, I sang to myself regularly – was another artist I had communion with, as do we all with those who deeply influence us when we feel alone.